An IELTS essay is the second (and most important) part of their academic writing test, and the TOEFL exam requires a similar essay. Either test may ask for various kinds of essays: comparing and contrasting two ideas or positions, arguing in defense of one side of an issue, evaluating the advantages and disadvantages (or positive and negative aspects) of a situation, or discussing causes and possible solutions of a problem.
IELTS and TOEFL examiners evaluate the essays using similar criteria: good organization and writing, clear development of ideas, and varied, appropriate word choices. They require a minimum of 250 (IELTS)- 300 (TOEFL) words. IELTS allows about 40 minutes for its essay; the TOEFL, 30 minutes.
I will discuss the IELTS essay (writing task #1 of its Writing test) since it is the most popular. test. However, most points apply to the TOEFL as well. The sample essay at the bottom of the page is long enough for either exam.
It’s worth taking a few minutes to roughly outline your paragraphs and main points. (Save a few minutes at the end for proofreading as well. Check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Also make sure that you have clearly supported your thesis or main idea.)
Below are two demonstrations of essay planning/outlining in response to two different writing prompts. (Your own notes can be even briefer, of course. Use any abbreviations you’ll recognize as you write.)
I developed the outline for writing prompt 1 into the sample IELTS essay below the outlines. (If you’re interested, the plan outlined for Prompt 2 became the gap-fill essay in Transition Words Practice. See Tony Hillerman's Navajo Detectives for an example of an essay analyzing a literary work.)
Two Example Outlines
IELTS Essay Writing Prompt Example 1: The Internet provides enormous amounts of information, good and bad. What are some ways Internet users can identify reliable information and avoid using poor-quality information to make decisions? Support your answer with relevant examples.
1. State the problem: lg. amts. of info. of varying value
2. Background of the problem
3. Possible solutions:
A. Look for authoritative sites
B. Check for possible bias
C. Compare information from several sites
Writing Prompt Example 2: “Online learning has more advantages than disadvantages.” To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give your reasons and specific examples to support them.
1. There are both advantages and disadvantages to O.L., but benefits outweigh drawbacks.
2. Disad. A: No face to face interaction.
Disad. B: Less opportunity to really know fellow students.
3. Mitigating the disadvantages:
A. Videos of lectures, Skype, & online chat.
B. Can be reduced with icebreakers, self-intros, & time to socialize and introduce oneself into the class schedule.
A. Avail to almost anyone who has a computer. Can be less expensive, esp in terms of overhead and texts/materials.
B. Can be designed to meet the needs of ss of varying learning styles and abilities [unlimited opportunities for review; types of presentation ltd only by tchr. imagination]; accessible to students w/ physical disabilities that can be limiting in regular classrooms, due to the adaptability of computers [TTS & vice versa, lg. print]
5. Summary. Add that it’s also possible to combine best aspects of both in many cases with occasional physical meetings (or even gatherings of classmates in several cities for video conferencing), flipped classrooms, taped live lectures, etc.
The Internet has made information available to anyone who can type in a few simple search terms, but it also provides large amounts of biased, outdated, or simply false “information.”
Fifty years ago, finding facts about an uncommon medical condition or the economy of another country required a visit to a research library. Often students and even researchers had to ask for help from librarians or other specialists to locate the data or books they needed. Now almost any kind of information can be found online, usually free. However, some of that information is not trustworthy. The old Roman warning “let the buyer beware” is more relevant than ever, even if no money is involved.
How can people ensure that the material they find is accurate and up-to-date? First, they can choose reputable websites. For example, for health advice, government sites like the NIMH and professional medical association sites like Web MD are authoritative. There are trustworthy sites for alternative or less orthodox ideas, but the authors’ credentials and arguments should be carefully examined. Information hunters also need to watch for evidence of bias and possible self-interest. Is the site pushing its own products or point of view, or selling for someone? Both are certainly legitimate, but searchers need to be aware of the interests involved.
In addition, they should check the opinions or facts of several different authorities. If two or three authoritative sites agree, the data is probably trustworthy. On the other hand, if material seems controversial or contradicts common sense, it ought to be investigated further. Once the major points of view or arguments on the subject are clear, searchers can compare the evidence, arguments, and credentials of the opposing sides to decide which (if any) they can believe.
These simple steps, along with basic common sense, can help researchers determine the value of the internet information they find. Examining the authority or research credentials of the site, searching for possible bias or ulterior motives, and comparing with other sources will give clear indications of the reliability of a site.
Remember, your most important preparation for any exam is to study the guidelines and criteria for the test you plan to take and then practice, repeatedly, with similar questions. (Study the samples they give, as well.) Practice will help you get comfortable with organizing your thoughts, writing, and proofreading your work within the time limits given.
If you check your word count for each practice essay, you will also begin to recognize what 250 words (or 300 for the TOEFL) looks like in your handwriting..
You should definitely study the official guidelines and samples for the IELTS essay (see the section on Academic Writing Task 2.) You might also want to check out Academic Writing for more ideas on what American or British universities expect.